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Movie Review: "Alexander"

This movie is to be one of the first of the big holiday season blockbusters, opening nationally a week from tomorrow, November 24, but I got to see a pre-release screening, and so can tell you about it.

The movie begins with an elaborate scene of death, and you can tell by the way it's portrayed that it's the title character dying in 323 BC.

Yes, the Cubs have won a World Championship (two, in fact) since then.

And this movie is only slightly longer than the time that's passed since the Cubs last won the World Series. It's nearly three hours long and, well, Oliver Stone's the director, so at times you feel you are going to see conspirators coming out of every door trying to kill people, and in fact, that is what wound up happening to Alexander in reality, and does again in this movie.

There also seems to be a veiled little slam at George W. Bush, as after Alexander accedes to being king when his father Philip is murdered, and he sets out on his quest to conquer the world with larger and larger armies, someone says, "Your father would never have done this." Couldn't help thinking of the two Bushes. Kind of enjoyed that, actually.

Anyway.

There are four different actors playing Alexander at different ages, the adult being played by Colin Farrell, hair curled and bleached blonde, and Farrell's a good action-movie choice for this role. His mother, the non-Macedonian (which, in the eyes of the people, makes Alexander a bastard and thus not suited to be king) Olympias, is, with the help of terrific makeup, done well by Angelina Jolie, who is only 28, but plays her from the age of about that, all the way to mid-40s.

Val Kilmer is almost unrecognizable as Philip, the father who both loves Alexander and tries to push him aside by marrying a Macedonian and having a baby and thus a legitimate heir with her, only to be brutally murdered. I don't know the history that well, and Stone, having made "JFK", loves a conspiracy and tries to set this up as such, but whether it was or not wasn't really clear in the film. What becomes clear as the movie goes on, is that Alexander did have dreams of world conquest, but his armies got spread too thin, and finally petered out in India, thousands of miles from home, which was a heck of a feat nearly 2500 years ago.

There are tons of battle scenes in this film, some filmed in gruesome bloody reality (not for the squeamish!) and some in big wide panoramic shots with lots of CGI soldiers, and one amazing scene set in India where horses get trampled by elephants. Even if you're covering your eyes you'll want to open them for this one.

The movie's told in flashback, by Ptolemy (played as an old man by Anthony Hopkins, and we see him also played by Eliot Cowan as a contemporary of Alexander -- and by another kid as a child. Confused? You won't be), telling the story to Egyptian scribes, and this is occasionally confusing, as the film goes back and forth a couple of times, and at one point didn't seem to be edited very well -- maybe this is a problem with the pre-release screening. It would have been a better movie if it had been an hour shorter, but that's not Oliver Stone.

Oh, and you'll enjoy Rosario Dawson as Roxane, Alexander's wife, who he marries in Babylon, and who turns out to be tough as nails, particularly in the scene where she and Farrell rip each other's clothes off.

AYRating: ***